I just read a statistic which said that the average person buys one book a year. Yikes! That does not bode well for those of us who want to sell our books, unless you are J.K. Rowling or Yann Martel, known for The Life of Pi. Martel just received a three million dollar deal for his new book, Beatrice and Virgil, about a monkey and a donkey discussing the holocaust with a taxidermist! Now why didn’t I come up with that topic? It seems that there is an appetite for bizarre and quirky topics. Another quirky book making headlines recently is Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales From Tomorrow. This collection of short stories was edited by Zsuzsi Gartner and with a name like Zsuzsi you have to expect the unexpected. Here is my list of new and bizarre writing topics:
- A pit bull and a vulture discuss genocide with an undertaker
- A polar bear and a swarm of honey bees discuss climate change with a real estate agent
- A cuckoo bird and a rat discuss global trade issues with the National Gun Association
- A parrot and a dolphin discuss dementia with an auctioneer
Good luck writing your quirky best seller.
We talk about voice in writing, but today I want to say a few words about the speaking voice. The other day when I was shopping I ran into a young sales girl whose voice was very irritating. I have been analyzing her voice ever since. As a writer I wondered how I could describe it on the page, but I also wondered why she talked like that. When I got through the line and handed her my purchases, she didn’t say anything unusual, but her tone was unusual. It was not what we call California up talk, it was a very high-pitched, overly happy voice, the kind you might use on a small toddler. I told her, “It’s OK. you can use your normal voice with me,” and she answered, “What do you mean?”
Well I was stumped. How do you describe a normal voice to someone who doesn’t seem to have one? I wanted to say, ‘dial it down a notch,’ or ‘lose the high pitch’ or talk like an adult’, but those comments all sounded rude in my head. Then I thought it might sound better to say, ‘well aren’t you the happy one today,’ but then again that would have made me sound grumpy. Parroting back with the same phony voice would be mocking her. Before my purchase was completed she paged someone over the P.A. system using the same voice!
I answered her question with, “Are you always this happy?”
“Oh no,” she said in her high-pitched sing songy voice, “But at work we have to be friendly.”
I guess it takes practice to be friendly and happy and sound like an adult.
After Aunt Emma placed the photo of the “M” family in the newspaper she had a surprising number of calls. Several people called to say they had worked with the youngest son Otto who use to live in Edmonton! We couldn’t believe it, but where was he now? My aunt followed several leads and made many phone calls to people who knew of him or had worked with him, but no one knew where he was. She gave me regular updates, as I was just as keen to find a member of the family. After many weeks on the phone Aunt Emma called a number in Oregon and a the man who answered was Otto!
She called me right after talking to him. Aunt Emma was so excited she was laughing and crying at the same time. Imagine finding each other after 65 years and realizing that they both immigrated to North America! Even more incredible that they both lived in the same city for several years and didn’t know it. I was amazed by it all.
Otto told my aunt that the photo showed the last happy time his family was together with their father. He wept when he saw the picture. Otto told Aunt Emma that shortly after the picture was taken they returned to Germany and his father was drafted into the SS and he was never heard from again. The photo meant so much to Otto that Aunt Emma could feel his happiness radiating like sunshine.
Aunt Emma and Otto phone each other regularly now, as they have 65 years to catch up on and on a global scale they are neighbours once more.
When my parents passed on my sister and I ended up with a box of photos. Our mother didn’t do albums; organizing was not her forte. So we were left to sort through them. Most of the photos were of us growing up and our children and other family members, but there was one black and white photo that we had never seen before. It was of a happy looking family with three children standing in front of their house, circa 1940’s according to the clothing. We had no idea who they were, so we asked the only person still connected to that time, our mother’s sister. I sent the photo to Aunt Emma who identified them as the “M” family, their summer neighbours from the Black Sea.
Apparently many German families had summer homes on the Black Sea. There they spent may idyllic days with the “M” family as both families had three children of the same age. The youngest son Otto was Aunt Emma’s age and she told me that those wonderful days ended in 1940 with the war. She had not seen or heard from the family since then. I told my aunt that I didn’t know what to do with the picture, but wouldn’t it be great if I could return it to the family. Without hesitation she said, “I’m going to find them!”
I asked how she planned to accomplish that, and she suggested placing the photo in the German-Canadian newspaper which is distributed throughout the western provinces. I suggested that she send the photo to Germany and place it in a paper there, but she had other ideas. I had my doubts about her strategy, but left it in her hands.
To be continued.
Around here hiking is a popular pastime. Many people take to the hills using walking poles or walking their dogs. Some hike for fitness and others do it for the fresh air or to commune with nature. My friend Anna walks her dog regularly around the neighbourhood and they know all the trails, short cuts and pathways which run from one street to the next. Anna was telling me of one hidden trail leading up the hill to the next street and the unbelievable view. Soon this became a favorite trail, but one day she noticed some people on the patio where she had never seen anyone home before. Anna was well hidden behind the trees and bushes, but the occupants on the patio were in full view. She couldn’t help but notice the couple was completely nude, drinking beer in the buff! Not exactly the kind of ‘nature’ she expected to find on a hike. It was a sizzling scene since it became evident that they were barbecuing. So on that day the trail had an even more unbelievable view, if you include the hot dog and the buns.
How is the view from your vantage point?
I am very fortunate to be living in a city nestled in a lovely valley surrounded by mountains and forests. As our city encroaches further up the mountain it moves us ever closer to the habitat of the big horn sheep and deer who also call this home. In the spring and fall we often get black bears wandering down to the creek in the green space behind our street. We all live here together but it’s not always harmonious.
The other night we were driving home from a concert when the car in front of us suddenly hit the brakes as a deer jumped out in front of him. We stopped and asked if we could help. A call was made to the police and the conservation office and there really was nothing more anyone could do for the poor injured deer. It was clearly suffering. I found it painful to witness. I felt completely useless. Eventually help arrived and we carried on, but the image of the suffering deer remained with me.
The next day I mentioned it to my sister who told me her own deer story. Apparently it happened several years ago as she and my brother-in-law were driving home one night from their son’s basketball game. My nephew and his friend were in the jeep in front of them when they suddenly hit a deer. Everyone jumped out of their vehicles and before they could think what to do, my nephew’s friend pulled a hunting knife out of his jeep and ended the deer’s suffering by slitting its throat! My sister said they knew he was a skilled hunter but they were absolutely stunned by his action. It was an image they didn’t soon forget. Begging the question, which is worse, watching an animal suffer of watching it die?